Sunday, April 26, 2009

Michelle Obama: Image Control

I wasn't sure what to think of this article at first, with all the "fashion is not political news" crap that shows up in the media, when it comes to women in the public eye, such as Michelle Obama,

The article starts out describing how Michelle has been adamant about having the last say in what she wears whens he poses for magazines like Vogue, People, Essence, and More. But it isn't only through her wardrobe choices that she is shaping her public image.
She has given coveted interviews primarily to women’s magazines and news outlets that have allowed her to highlight her domestic side: her focus on motherhood and her efforts to settle her family in the White House; her interest in gardening and healthy living; her affinity for mixing off-the-rack and designer goods; and her efforts to open up the White House to ordinary Americans.
This effort to focus her image is seen by the article's author as a "remarkable political transformation."
Only 10 months ago, Mrs. Obama was described as an angry black woman by some conservatives and as a liability to her husband. Now, she is widely admired for her warmth, and her vibrant and accessible manner, and her race seems almost an afterthought to many Americans. She has the highest favorability ratings of any incoming first lady since 1980, and is even more popular than the president.
As I read this I was a little disappointed because there are so many more aspects to Michelle Obama's character than her domestic side. Why aren't Michelle and her aides highlighting these things?
The image that Mrs. Obama is projecting, however, fails to fully reflect the multifaceted first lady. A Harvard-trained lawyer and former hospital vice president, she is also a tough-minded professional who cares deeply about influencing public policy and sometimes promotes legislation at her events.
Some analysts feel that Michelle may be trying to build her popularity through more traditional means in order to be able to push for action in policy areas she cares about in the future. I'm not sure what I think about this. What about you?


Tasha said...

I think it's interesting that when her fashion sense and role as a mother was less emphasized, she was an "angry black woman" and as soon as more conventionally female attributes were emphasized she became popular.

AlejandroDelLoco said...

What really blows my mind is the sheer volume of fluff pieces about the Obama admin and family being played out in the NYT. I will say there is one positive message coming out of this new "susie homemaker" image: the way she's playing up the eat-an-organic-local-diet/turn-your-lawn-to-a-garden campaign. While conforming to gender roles the way she is now makes us feminist observers uncomfortable (and honestly, when haven't we been uncomfortable observing this society), she is leveraging this warm matron persona toward what is still a pretty radical agenda - subverting corporate food. If there's one truly cool PR stunt that the Obama admin has pulled, it's undoubtedly the way they've taken heed of Michael Pollan and put in a garden. I think Michelle is positioning herself to get more political. It just really sucks that she seems to be playing it out like she can't unless she adopts a more "feminine" persona.

Amelia said...

Well put, AlejandroDelLoco! I agree with all you said.

Anonymous said...

I always wonder why people (usually feminists) seem to think the first lady can push ANY public policy, or any legislation.

She's not a politician. She's not the president, nor a representative, nor a senator.

She's the president's wife. When it all comes down to it, that's what she is.

It doesn't matter what she wears, what she says, what banquets and benefits she goes to, she's still nothing more than a citizen with zero actual power.

Amelia said...

Although the first lady does not have any power in the sense that the president, or member of Congress do, it is incorrect to say that she has no power to help influence legislation. She is not just any ordinary citizen.

Anonymous said...

She is. Unless you think that by being the president's wife, she can encourage him to push things SHE wants.

Which is laughable. I'm pretty certain he'd do what's good for the country first, rather than treat his presidency as a honey-do list.

Amelia said...

Actually, in one of my political science classes the other day, we were discussing how first ladies with strong opinions about political issues have often been able to get their husbands to take action in these areas. And if you take into consideration the relationship that the Obamas seem to have, I believe that the president would absolutely take Michelle seriously were she to push for action on a certain issue. They seem to be very much equals in their personal relationship, and to discount that is not fair.

Anonymous said...

They aren't equals though.

He is the leader of one of the most powerful nations on earth.

She is not.

I would think very much less of him if he allowed her to shape public policy, considering she isn't a professional politician, nor does she have any experience with a career in politics.

It doesn't matter what "kind of relationship" they have. He has a duty to the nation to do what's best for it. That comes first. I wouldn't have an ounce of respect for a president who pushed policy because his wife nagged him to.

Amelia said...

Okay, Anon, I think you got your opinion across, but because it is very much getting off topic, I will not be allowing any more such comments through.


Monica Roberts said...

First Ladies have Zero political power?

Methinks you forgot about Eleanor Roosevelt, who put pressure on FDR to be more progressive on civil rights issues.

The Tuskegee Airman would have had the plug pulled on them long before they made it overseas if it weren't for Eleanor Roosevelt tirelessly pushing and using her power as First Lady to make it happen.

The integrated Marian Anderson cnncert after racism prevented her from singing at Constitution Hall 70 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial was her doing as well.